The English language passed a million threshold in June 2009! The Global Language Monitor, declared “Web 2.0” as the millionth word in the English language although some linguists consider it as complete nonsense. The monitoring group, that used a special math algorithm for tracking the frequency of words in print and electronic media, announced that Web 2.0 appeared over 25,000 times in searches and was widely recognized, making it a real one millionth word.
Web 2.0 was first used as a technical term meaning the next generation of World Wide Web services but gradually went into wide circulation. Linguists refuted the statistics as “pure publicity and unscientific” since it is impossible to actually count English words in use as there are no set rules for such a count nor a certified arbiter who can define what is a legitimate English word. Besides, classifying the English language is complicated by the number of compound words, verbs and obsolete terms.
Other finalists for the one millionth English word
The Global Language Monitor published the list of words which met the criteria of a minimum of 25,000 citations, with the appropriate graphic distribution. Below I’m presenting some of them.
- Web 2.0 – The next generation of web products and services, coming soon to a browser near you.
- N00b — From the Gamer Community, a neophyte in playing a particular game; used as a disparaging term.
- Slumdog – A person residing in the slums of India.
- Cloud Computing – The ‘cloud’ has been technical jargon for the Internet for many years. It is now passing into more general usage.
- Slow Food — Food other than the fast-food variety hopefully produced locally
- Greenwashing – Re-branding an old, often inferior, product as environmentally friendly.
- Sexting – Sending email (or text messages) with sexual content.
- Shovel Ready – Projects are ready to begin immediately upon the release of federal stimulus funds.
- Defriend – Social networking terminology for cutting the connection with a formal friend.
- Recessionista – Fashion conscious who use the global economic restructuring to their financial benefit.
- Zombie Banks – Banks that would be dead if not for government intervention and cash infusion.
Paul JJ Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor, has calculated that about 14.7 new English words or phrases are generated daily and mentioned how English was changing along with current social trends. It has been also calculated that a neologism is created on average every 98 minutes.
“English has become a universal means of communication; never before have so many people been able to communicate so easily with so many others.”
It is estimated that English is now being studied by hundreds of millions around the world and used entertainment, commercial or scientific purposes. Compared to 1960 there were around 250 million English speakers, mostly in former colonies and the Commonwealth countries today it is estimated that there are 1.53 billion people who speak some version of English, with 250 million speakers in China alone.
Why did English become global?
According to a British scientist David Graddol:
- 80 % of information on the Internet is available in English.
- Every reputable newspaper around the world has an English version.
- More people know English in China than in the USA.
- Harry Potter books, in the original language versions sold better in non English speaking countries than in English speaking ones.
How did all that happen? In his book “Empire of the Word”, Nicholas Ostler explains that English has been steadily building its strength and empire for many years and now it was reinforced by the Internet usage. According to the author, the power of English specifically relies on the Internet and not on the simplicity of its structure. He further claims that if we were tempted by the rule of simplicity we would all speak Finnish (according to many linguists it’s easy to learn due to clear grammatical and phonetic rules).
Flexibility of the English language
English borrowed a great number of words in time of colonization. That’s why it’s flexible and multi-functional and can easily adjust to any cultural circumstances and new trends. In English if the word doesn’t exist and is missing, we create it for the specific purpose. We don’t know how to call a person addicted to shopping? Why not a shopaholic? The opposite of feminism, maybe masculinism or malism? As simple as that.
The process of such an easy word-formation is possible thanks to its open-endedness and creativity. New words are constantly added, as speakers describe new concepts, objects, and ideas. In the vocabulary of English, verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs belong to open classes, in other words, they can be extended indefinitely by the addition of new items.
When will the balloon explode?
Neologisms are extremely useful in the language since they reflect inventions, new phenomena and especially socio-cultural trends that we are witnessing. Undoubtedly, language is in a permanent state of change and it is the mirror of the society.
However, hitting the millionth word in English is truly disturbing for some linguists. Of course, English is flexible and easily adjusts to new trends but are there any limits to creating new words (neologisms)? Who controls and defines the boundaries of new words?
As I mentioned before, the English language is highly flexible in the compounding explosion and very democratic. But will there be any control over its correctness? Other languages such as French and Spanish are under constant supervision of specially dedicated government institutions that have the authority to register new words. The English language is not monitored at all.
The future is bleak
Since it’s so global, will English divide into several varieties of English? Are we soon going to register new languages? Spanglish– the combination of Spanish and English, Chinglish – Chinese and English. The same happened to the Latin language which gave rise to Italian, Spanish and French. Is the history repeating itself? Is English really doomed? The facts don’t look too optimistic. Let’s wait and see.
For GOYELLO English it the corporate language and more and more companies will follow. If you are dealing with international clients there is no other way. Share your opinion and thoughts below or discuss with us on Twitter: @GOYELLO